Author Archive

Jun 29

Salty Talk: Posh

Wednesday, June 29, 2016 12:01 AM

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Cartoon by Eric Smith. U.S. Naval Institute

Many have heard the term “posh,” used to mean something fancy or luxurious — swanky. The word has its origin in the operations of the Pacific and Orient Steamship Company of nearly a century-and-a-half ago. The P. & O. line made voyages principally between England and British Empire ports on the rim of the Indian Ocean and in the Far East. Its steamers traveled south across the Bay of Biscay, east through the Mediterranean, south again through the Suez Canal and Red Sea, and then fanned out across the Indian Ocean to such places as Bombay, Calcutta, Trincomalee, Singapore, and… Read the rest of this entry »

 
Jun 14

Salty Talk: The Blazer

Tuesday, June 14, 2016 9:57 PM

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HMS Blazer by Eric Smith

Uniforms for naval officers-their cut, color, and adornments specified by regulation-began appearing in the 18th century. Ordinary crew members had to wait about another century before they were similarly provided for, although navies were making available clothing of a simple, common pattern well before that. In every ship, one boat provided a captain’s personal means of transport. It was called a gig. Over time, captains-especially successful or rich ones-took to decorating their gigs to suit their personal tastes and to make them unique (rather like people today customizing their cars). They also took to outfitting their gigs’ crews with special… Read the rest of this entry »

 
May 6

‘The Necessity of the Fight’

Friday, May 6, 2016 12:01 AM

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Surrounded in his CBS office with a modest library and an array of memorabilia from a distinguished career in journalism, Cronkite did not take the term "retirement" very seriously. Above his assistant's desk the headline from a clipping read, "Cronkite Cannot Say No." Courtesy L. Furgatch.

We were in an editorial meeting when our secretary, Marcia Owens, walked in and whispered, “There’s a guy on your phone who says he’s Walter Cronkite. Yeah, right! It actually does sound like him, though. What should I say?” It was indeed the man who had become known as “the most trusted man in America.” He was calling to correct an error in memory he had made in an answer to a question I had posed during our interview the previous week. We were putting together our D-Day 50th Anniversary commemoration, and we thought that someone who had had a… Read the rest of this entry »

 
Apr 20

Salty Talk: “Over a Barrel”

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 12:01 AM

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"Kissing the Gunner's Daughter."

In previous “talks” we have mentioned the seagoing practice of flogging as the principal form of punishment, and how the recipients of such punishment usually were triced up in a spread-eagle position to receive it. Occasionally, some skippers of men-of-war preferred to have the men bent over a cannon to receive their lashes. This position was more commonly used, however, for the ships’ boys and young student officers (midshipmen) when they required discipline. Sometimes, they got the “cat,” but, at least in the U.S. Navy by the mid-19th century, a “boy’s cat” or “colt” — a somewhat less lethal device… Read the rest of this entry »

 
Mar 25

Salty Talk: “Turning a Blind Eye”

Friday, March 25, 2016 12:01 AM

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"Turning a blind eye." Naval Institute Archives.

It is a rare occasion when the appearance of a word or phrase in a language can be dated with precision, but such is the case with one, which originated nearly 200 years ago. By the end of the 18th Century, one of England’s main sources of naval stores – mast timbers, pitch, hemp – were the Baltic states. With the resumption of war between Napoleonic France and England following the Peace of Amiens, the French dictator gained control of Denmark and, thereby, one side of the narrow Danish Straits, gateway to the Baltic. Endangering the future of her first line… Read the rest of this entry »

 
Mar 9

Salty Talk

Wednesday, March 9, 2016 12:01 AM

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"Cat-o'-Nine-Tails"

How are you at keeping a secret, especially one you know will give pleasure to a loved one? Not so good? And when you do give it away, perhaps someone will observe that you “let the cat out of the bag.” That seemingly innocent little phrase has a grisly history. A ship’s crew was a polyglot collection of men from many walks of life and even many more countries. Their reasons for going to sea were equally varied, and not all of them honorable. Keeping such a group under control in the restricted environment of a wooden ship for weeks… Read the rest of this entry »

 
Feb 24

Salty Talk

Wednesday, February 24, 2016 12:01 AM

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We have many ways of saying “Hurry up,” including “Get the lead out,” “Step on it,” and “Move it.” Another-“Shake a leg”-has nautical origins. In the bygone world of wooden ships and iron men, some skippers would allow the men to take their “wives” with them on the long journeys. These females often shared much of the work with the men, ate with them, and shared their hammocks. The area below decks set aside for sleeping usually allowed little space and less privacy, with the hammocks slung less than a foot apart in a close compartment with little illumination. When… Read the rest of this entry »

 
Feb 22

‘A Broadside from Battleship Burns’

Monday, February 22, 2016 12:01 AM

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On occasion what we do at the U.S. Naval Institute, in this case, Naval History magazine, has caught the attention of the mainstream press. One such instance was in 1999, after we conducted an interview with award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns at his Florentine Films headquarters in Walpole, New Hampshire. Back in the Institute’s Beach Hall, Public Relations Director Kevin Clarke asked whether Burns had said anything controversial during the course of our conversation. Well, apparently he had, because we heard from Ann Gerhart, writer at the time for the Washington Post’s popular “Reliable Source” column. Her story went like… Read the rest of this entry »

 
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